Georgia trying to shut down private university at the request of Turkish gov’t

Georgian authorities have reportedly tried to close the private International Black Sea University (IBSU), which was founded in 1995 in Georgia’s capital of Tbilisi, at the request of the Turkish government led by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan over its alleged affiliation with the Gülen movement.

IBSU has played an important role in the education sector in Georgia, and according to recent statistics the university is ranked fourth among 100 state and private universities in the country. However, it was reported that the university is now (unwillingly) being punished by the Georgian government for political reasons emanating from the Turkish government.

According to a report by Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency (AA) on August 16, 2018, there is a very close cooperation between the security forces of Turkey and Georgia against alleged members of the Gülen movement despite the presence of a university affiliated with the movement.

Speaking to AA on the sidelines of the 10th Ambassadors’ Conference in Ankara, Fatma Ceren Yazgan, the ambassador to Georgia, said the Gülen movement still has its university in Georgia and added: “Unfortunately, Turkey’s expectations from the Georgian government on FETÖ have not yet been met. We want them to take a serious step at this point.”

“FETÖ” is a derogatory term coined by ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government led by President Erdoğan to refer to the Gülen movement.

Following pressure from the Turkish government, the authorization board of Georgia has unlawfully denied the university’s right to receive a new contingent of students for a one year period, according to a statement made by the IBSU administrative board.
The full text of the statement made by the IBSU’s Administrative Board is as follows:

The authorization board has unlawfully denied the International Black Sea University the right of receiving a new contingent of students for one year period. 

Starting from 2018, the authorization process began with new standards applied in higher educational institutions operating in Georgia. On April 24-27, the International Black Sea University hosted an expert group headed by Professor Andy Gibbs, an international expert in education from the United Kingdom. As a result of the study analysis and factual circumstances, a team of experts prepared a conclusion according to which the University meets authorization standards: Out of seven standards (19 sub-standards), none have been evaluated negatively.

By the decision of the Authorization Board of Higher Educational Institutions on August 20, 2018, the International Black Sea University was granted authorization for 6 years; At the same time, the Board has made a totally illogical and incompatible decision that contradicts the experts’ conclusion; it ignores the positive conclusion of experts and the University is forced to stop accepting the new contingent of students until August 20, 2019.

As a result, up to 800 students’ choices to study at the International Black Sea University have been ignored. The Board has compelled them to apply to other higher educational institutions. The decision constitutes a threat to students’ legal preferences during two academic years. 

The argument for the decision made by the Authorization Board is that the International Black Sea University was imposed a tax penalty in 2013 (the amount of the fine at the current moment is 700 000 GEL and the judicial dispute is still in process). Due to the fine, the property of the university has been sequestered. The university is ready to pay a tax penalty in case of losing a court dispute. It should be emphasized, that according to the decision of June 4, 2018, of the Revenue Service (#025-152), sequestration of the university’s property was abolished. The document was submitted to the Authorization Board. However, the Board did not take the mentioned factual circumstance into a consideration. 

The Authorization Board’s position is groundless and unfair due to the following reasons:

Firstly, real estate and other assets of the International Black Sea University greatly exceeds 700,000 GEL.

Secondly, the decision made by the Authorization Board reduces the revenue of the university up to 2 million GEL only this year (which normally would have been used for various educational purposes). The question is whether or not limiting the university’s income is an adequate measure when the Board (unreasonably) considers the material instability to be the university’s main problem?  

Besides, according to the authorization experts’ report, the university’s material and financial resources are in full accordance with the requirements. It is clear, that the Authorization Board ignores a qualified assessment of its local and foreign experts.

The irresponsible decision of the Authorization Board hinders the development of one of the leading and internationally recognized universities in Georgia.

The IBSU has 23 years of successful academic experience and which is known for its graduates’ high employment rates. The IBSU cooperates with more than 60 international universities. Up to 2000 international and local students are currently studying in the university. The university employs 400 qualified staff members.

We apply to NGOs and international organizations, diplomatic corps and the whole civil society to support the International Black Sea University in its fight against this injustice.

We refer to the Government of Georgia to take appropriate measures in order to prevent the damaging of the country’s international reputation, democratic values, freedom of entrepreneurial activity and to protect the educational sphere from unhealthy influences.

The Administrative Board of the International Black Sea University (IBSU)

The crackdown on critical thinking in Turkey with an unprecedented witch hunt targeting teachers, academics and other professionals in the education sector has dealt a huge blow to free thought in Turkey, according to a report released by SCF.

The government of President Erdoğan has jailed some 20,000 instructors and arbitrarily fired 34,185 public school teachers and 5,719 academics including professors from state universities within the last two years alone. They were branded as “terrorists” and “coup plotters” without any effective administrative or judicial probe and as such marked for life.

The government shut down 1,069 privately run schools, most of which were the nation’s best performing science schools and were affiliated with the Gülen movement, and closed down 15 universities that were run by privately held foundations. As a result, 2,465 academics and 54,350 teachers instantly became unemployed. With the support staff who worked in these schools, the total number of people who lost their jobs reached 65,214. The government also canceled the licenses of 22,474 teachers, making it impossible for them to continue working as teachers in other institutions.

In total, 96,719 teachers and academics were purged from Turkey’s public and private educational institutions. This number does not include the support staff that was hired to run schools and universities in administrative and other capacities.

Most of the shuttered institutions were transformed into religious schools that are designed to raise a new generation of Islamist supporters for Erdoğan’s AKP.

When all the closed institutions are taken into account, the total loss in value including fixed property and land is around $100 billion, one source estimates. The crackdown included foreign students who came to Turkey for study or Turkish students who were sent abroad on government scholarships.

Hundreds of thousands of people in Turkey have been the subject of legal proceedings in the last two years on charges of membership in the Gülen movement since the coup attempt in July 2016, a Turkish Justice Ministry official told a symposium on July 19, 2018.

“Legal proceedings have been carried out against 445,000 members of this organization,” Turkey’s pro-government Islamist news agency İLKHA quoted Turkish Justice Ministry Deputy Undersecretary Ömer Faruk Aydıner as saying.

Turkey survived a controversial military coup attempt on July 15, 2016, that killed 249 people. Immediately after the putsch, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement.

Fethullah Gülen, who inspired the movement, strongly denied having any role in the failed coup and called for an international investigation into it, but President Erdoğan — calling the coup attempt “a gift from God” — and the government initiated a widespread purge aimed at cleansing sympathizers of the movement from within state institutions, dehumanizing its popular figures and putting them in custody.

Turkey has suspended or dismissed more than 150,000 judges, teachers, police and civil servants since July 15. On December 13, 2017, the Justice Ministry announced that 169,013 people have been the subject of legal proceedings on coup charges since the failed coup.

Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu announced on April 18, 2018, that the Turkish government had jailed 77,081 people between July 15, 2016, and April 11, 2018, over alleged links to the Gülen movement.

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